Sue Parslow reviews one of Stamford Shakespeare Company’s 2017 productions in its unique rural outdoor setting at Tolethorpe.

Cheers go up for the end of the First World War. Soldiers are welcomed home as bunting is hoisted around the garden belonging to the play’s patriarch, Leonarto, in preparation for the homecoming party. Before long thoughts turn to romance… so begins Stamford Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.

Antics were there by the barrel load in this modern adaptation — it’s a play of two halves. There’s a more ‘classical’ albeit comedic drama with twists and turns, heroes and heroines, and a sub plot which contributed slap stick humour with a chase or two.

The witty one-liners are timeless, as are silly situations, misunderstandings and confusions. There was even an Oriental twist as the ladies of the Watch don Chinese outfits complete with Asian ‘coolie’ hats as a ‘cunning disguise’ to capture the villain of the piece. On the evening I visited the audience included a young school group and we were all wowed by a large traditional-style dragon whose eyes lit up!

Tolethorpe is on the edge of a tiny village in Rutland. Its outdoor stage is framed by established trees and hedgerow. The set for Much Ado was parterre garden style with water features and unexpected trapdoors. The actors, cast from the local community, must project against a natural soundtrack of birds and sheep in the fields behind. They presumably pray for dry weather since the play must go on, whatever comes. Happily the audience is protected from the wind and rain under a permanent canopy and sit on cushioned terraced seating. Word to the wise though — no matter how hot and sunny the day, you will feel chilly as the sun goes down, so take a warm jacket and a throw for your legs.

Next year is Stamford Shakespeare Company’s 50th anniversary. The magical setting, combined with the polished performances of the cast and crew, ensure that visitors come back year after year. Starting in June 2018, they’ll be staging The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor and the one non-Shakespearian play they traditionally include will be Sheridan’s The School for Scandal.

What to do nearby…

Tolethorpe Hall is located a few miles north of Stamford, famed for its Georgian architecture, independent shops and eateries. Blue Badge Guide Jill Collinge takes entertaining guided walks around the town highlighting its medieval churches and pointing out the locations for film dramas including Middlemarch and Pride and Prejudice.